When Employers Ask About Your Salary Range, Try This

A client recently remarked on that weird moment when a potential employer asks for your salary range. She wondered, “Should it be X% over what I'm making now? Based entirely on salary calculators?”

For my money, the employer should tell you what the range is since they actually know specifics of what the job entails, their budget, and the market value/going rate. Or as Vu Le says, when you don’t disclose salary range on a job posting, a unicorn loses its wings.

But, for my client and the purposes of this article, let’s assume they’re expecting you to say the number first. Figuring out an appropriate salary range for a new position can feel like a ridiculous high stakes guessing game. Ask for too little, they won’t take you seriously and you’ll end up underpaid forever. Ask for too much, you’ll cut yourself out of the running for the job. No pressure.

It doesn’t have to be so fraught. Here are four tools to help you determine an appropriate range:

1. Many professional associations do an audit of salaries in the industry. Ask around to find out what membership groups or professional associations aggregate that data in your industry. Even if there’s not a formal study, there are likely people who you can chat with about industry trends.

Your email could say something like, “I’m seeking ___ type of position at ___ kinds of organizations. Based on my experience and the region, I’m looking to get a sense of the industry standards surrounding compensation. Are there any resources you recommend or individuals I could speak with on the subject?”

2. Networking can be a huge value, but studies show that people tend to network in single sex groups – basically, men network with men, women with women.  If you’re only talking salaries with other women, odds are decent you’re not getting good fair wage data. Remember that thanks to the wretched wage gap, there’s a good chance your lady friends are getting paid less than their male peers. Be sure you’re talking with both men and women so you’re getting the most fair and accurate wage information.

3. You can ask someone who was in the role previously or is familiar with the position, “Would you be comfortable sharing the salary range that’s appropriate for this role based on your experience?”  This way, you’re not asking them to disclose what they made but asking for their perspective.

4. Online salary calculators like payscale.com and glassdoor.com can be invaluable resources in determining your market value, but note that searching for salary info based only on a job title and your city won’t give you accurate results. Would you trust OKCupid’s suggested matches if all you’d entered was your gender?  You want data that’s specific to your region, level of experience, and the size of the company you’re considering, so be sure you’re putting in as much info as possible about yourself and the role to get the most accurate info.

Tools in Action

You probably won’t be able to use each of these tools for every job offer. Salary calculators couldn't even generate a report for my client because of the specific context of the international job she’s considering. She did better interpersonally.

She told me, “I tend to confide in my closest friends and colleagues, most of whom happen to be female, but I reached out to a [male] former colleague tonight who's held similar positions and that was helpful.”

The conversation also evoked additional questions for her hiring manager about compensation more broadly including:

  • Does the offer include housing? A driver?
  • What's the tax situation in the posting country?
  • Will I be paid in USD or will my paycheck be subject to currency fluctuations?

The answers to these sorts of industry or job-specific questions should of course inform your salary expectations, and it’s appropriate to say as much. I recommended she send a warm, enthusiastic note to the person who interviewed her to the effect of,

“I’ve done a lot of thinking about the salary range and have a few questions before I’m able to share the salary range I’d be seeking in this position.”

or

"Do you have an outline of the benefits the organization provides to team members overseas? I know these vary considerably among organizations."

While we wait for the unicorn job offers that include the salary range in the job description, these strategies will position you to learn more about compensation for the role and determine a salary range that accurately reflects your market value.

A version of this piece was originally published by Forbes.